Book Review: ‘Redshirts’ by John Scalzi

RedshirtsRedshirts by John Scalzi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Important note: I don’t like metafiction. Last time it came up I thought it was because the protagonist wasn’t a BAMF, but I liked the protagonist in this one. Anyway, the point is that I’m not wholly the target audience for this, and if you do like metafiction you will like this a lot more than me. (The only time I’ve even liked fourth wall breaking was in ‘Deadpool.’ Violence makes everything better.)

The blurb and title suggest lots of sending-up of Star Trek (and I agree with Scalzi’s beta readers—it goes past that, although some of it is just sending up other sci-fi staples and wider tropes). My experience with the series is very limited—I couldn’t tell you which series featured which captain—but I didn’t find this to be a problem. I assume it’s funnier if you get all the references, but as long as you’re aware of the big tropes, you’re set to follow the story.

There are a lot of shoutouts to the formula for every sci-fi series episode (and Scalzi was invovled with SGU, so he must be a database of them, plus one for the ‘relevant experience’ column). In particular, and this makes me happy because it drove me nuts in the J. J. Abrams movie adaptations, the messy illogical pseudoscience. Naturally, one of the meta aspects of the book discusses when you can and can’t get away with handwaving.

Anyway, I’m not a total idiot. I got that this was going to have meta right away—the ‘Narrative’ isn’t meant to be a surprise, considering how early it comes up—and I was ready for that element of ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ (haven’t seen, kinda want to). What I wasn’t ready for is how far the meta ultimately goes. The last fifteen minutes of the book take a sledgehammer to the fourth wall, which is probably great if you’re a writer who spends a lot of time metacogitating, or are interested in the process side of things and don’t mind its intrusion into your otherwise entertaining fiction.

This book also has some stylistically rough bits. To be honest, this is the first thing by Scalzi I’ve read that isn’t his wonderful blog, so I don’t know what his fiction style is usually like. (Unlike a lot of the people reviewing this book, I liked the lack of exposition, though.) Also, I couldn’t parse the reason behind the tense switching in Coda #2—may have to come back to it in a later century when I’m all caught up on sleep.

The audience for this book is more metacogitators first and then science fiction readers. I think one of the issues a lot of reviewers are having is that they’re going in expecting something more traditionally sci-fi, and this isn’t that book, nor does the actual content mislead you for very long in that direction (although I do think the ending went a lot, lot further into the meta and that led to a huge, unexpected tone shift). It does come across that way, but that’s what reviews are for!

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10 thoughts on “Book Review: ‘Redshirts’ by John Scalzi

    • Yay, I’m educational 😀 Anyway, I don’t read a ton of it, but I would recommend checking out ‘An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England’ if you’re interested in more.


    (Man, meta is a hard word to all caps dramatically. I just went through half a dozen variations from, many T’s to numerous E’s to a bunch of M’s. Ended with all those A’s as the least-odd-looking version.)

    For me, any hint that a book is a reaction-fanfiction-reduction-elaboration of an existing popular franchise is a complete turnoff. I just can’t do it! Even if it wins awards. Only exception is The Beekeepers Apprentice [Sherlock world] and any fairytale retelling.

    I just couldn’t do this book, and it looks from your review that I can probably be okay with that.

    • Hmmm…MEEETA just looks wrong. Yeah, I think you’re safest with that A!

      I haven’t heard of that one, I’ll have to check it out – what’s the premise?

      And yeah, if you’re not into that kind of riffing, you realllly wouldn’t enjoy the way this one opens. (It takes a sharp left into METAAAA like halfway through the riffing. Which is what drove me nuts.)

      • Aaaaah. I’m not sure how I feel about that…the thing I hate most about Holmes is that he’s such a damn lucky know-it-all. THAT COULD HAVE BEEN SOMETHING DIFFERENT YOU JERK. So, a new one? Withholding judgment for now 😛

      • I know, right?! I read this thing about how the reviewer *hated* ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ when he read it later, and now I’m paranoid. Then again, Garth Nix, Tamora Pierce, and Diane Duane have held up pretty well…but fantasy.

      • Oooh yes! Sadly I got into Jones way late, I don’t consider it a ‘reread’ if it was in like the past five years, as far as the ‘oh crap reread’ thing goes.

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